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Lessons learned

Baseball's postseason has provided us with a few nuggets of knowledge

Posted: Wednesday October 27, 2004 1:26PM; Updated: Wednesday October 27, 2004 3:12PM
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We'll start today's blog with "Things We've Learned in the Postseason."

Pedro Martinez made himself a lot of money last night.

All year, Pedro's looked like he's started to lose his stuff, not to mention his mind. (That bizarre dance with the red bat on the top step of the dugout. The 28-inch mascot. You know, I think Michael Jackson and Emmanuel Lewis showed us that a man adopting an undersized sidekick is a wee bit odd.) For a few bizarre moments in Game 7 of the ALCS, it looked as if Pedro might actually blow the greatest comeback in team sports history. Not exactly the sort of year you want heading into free agency.

Then came last night. Easily the biggest game he'll ever pitch. The Sox won the first two games of the World Series at home, which is precisely what they were supposed to do. The true test was Game 3, when they had to go into one of the toughest places to play. They lose last night and it's a whole new Series. So Pedro shows that when it's time to pitch a big game, he's still got something left. He made himself a lot more marketable than had he gotten shelled.

• The Yankees are in trouble.

They're like Elvis circa 1975: big, bloated, a shadow of their former selves content to try to make it by living off their reputation. But here's the weird thing: If the best closer in the history of baseball can finish off a floundering team in the ninth, then they'd probably be beating the Cardinals right now -- the baseball equivalent of pulling off another Aloha From Hawaii special.

Eventually, though, the ride's got to end. The lineup is just not as scary as it used to be. A-Rod had a pretty indifferent postseason, and will be remembered primarily for slapping the ball out of Bronson Arroyo's glove in Game 6. (Seriously, has there ever been a more effete display of slapping? Jeremy Piven hitting Will Ferrell in Old School? Fackler hitting Tackleberry in Police Academy?) Mariano Rivera, the aforementioned best closer in the history of baseball, can't pitch against the Red Sox. The Yanks' rotation is awful. (I thought Kevin Brown would come up big in Game 3 against the Sox. He didn't, so I told myself, He's Kevin Brown, man. He's intimidating, he's tough. He got his bad start out of his system, and when the chips are down he'll come up big in Game 7. I was, needless to say, wrong.) And Joe Torre showed rare signs of being fallible. Any time you bring in a pitcher (Javier Vazquez) and Fox has already cued up highlight footage of said pitcher being taken deep repeatedly by the first guy he'll face (Johnny Damon) you've got to wonder if maybe you shouldn't look for a better matchup.

So what can they do to fix it? They'll make a run at Carlos Beltran, who they don't need but will pursue because they can't have him land somewhere else in the AL. They'll try to get Carl Pavano -- who, depending who you listen to, is a diehard Yankees fan or a New Englander inclined to play for Boston. But even if they get him, the back of the rotation is a mess and can't be relied on. A trade is out of the question, since their minor league system is barren. They've got some serious dead-weight contracts they can't get out from under (not that that matters to George Steinbrenner). So next year we're probably looking at a $200 million payroll and 89 wins.

• There's no more Godforsaken existence in the sports world than that of a Cleveland fan. The Braves crashed out of the postseason again, as they've done every year since 1992--with the exception of 1995, when they beat the Tribe in the World Series.

Not only have the Indians gone Series-winless since 1948, but they're also some sort of sick enablers, thanks to their 1995 World Series loss to the Braves, who have crashed out of all the other postseasons since '92. Every year the Braves fail to win another Series just makes '95 sting more.

Terry Francona might not make the greatest calls in the world, but you can't deny the job he's done with that Red Sox team.

It can't be easy striking a balance between the need to let idiots be idiots and the need to make them play good baseball. The only way to make that situation work is to constantly live on the edge, one step from complete chaos. I don't know how long he can pull this off for, but my hat is off to the guy. He's made some shaky calls, but he's getting results.

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An aside: fellow blogger Chris Mannix -- who is dressing as Antoine Walker (as a Celtic) for Halloween, which tells you all you need to know about where his allegiance lies -- went on a rant after Game 3 of the ALCS that called for the heads of Francona and Theo Epstein, not to mention half of the players. (Every Sox fan I know was clamoring for Pokey Reese at that point; safe to say the repair Mark Bellhorn has made to his image has been impressive.) I'm dying to see how Sox fans handle the winning the Series. The curse and losing are such a part of their fabric that I just can't comprehend how they'll react. Glee? A sense of being hollow or incomplete, since the curse won't be a part of them any more? Serenity? Of course, we'll probably never find out. Within minutes of the final out, a meteor will crash into Earth and wipe out civilization, or Babe Ruth will rise from his grave and smite every sports fan in America. Either way, life as we know it won't be the same.

On to non-baseball matters. Vicious fight between the Bulls and Wizards the other night. Any time one guy hits another in the groin, you've got to believe there's going to be some lingering resentment next time these two meet. It might even make the game watchable, which I never thought I'd say about a Bulls-Wizards game.

SI picked the Cavs to finish fifth in the East, which seemed ridiculous to me until I looked at who was behind them. The Eastern Conference is awful. Absolutely, embarrassingly bad. Which is why the NBA is unwatchable to a large segment of society. (How anyone can argue that the NBA is better than college hoops is beyond me.) As for the Cavs, since Carlos Boozer left (class move, that), they're going to have to start holding auditions for the role of the new Pippen. Gotta tell you, Drew Gooden has looked pretty good in the sidekick role so far.

Several folks took me to task for chastising Jon Stewart for his performance on Crossfire. A few even accused me of criticizing him because CNN and SI both operate under the same corporate umbrella. (And why does everyone keep calling me a Republican?) Actually, Stewart had a very valid criticism of the show -- that it serves no useful purpose because it fails to enlighten its viewers, instead hoping people will turn in because they like watching a middle-aged man and a guy in a bow tie yell at each other. It would have been nice to see Stewart issue a well-thought critique of the show with some of the cleverness he displays regularly on The Daily Show. Instead he made fun of Tucker Carlson's bow tie and called him a four-letter word. Instead of showing them how it should be done, he sank to their level. Having said that, I'll be watching Stewart on Election Night.

Fellow blogger Albert Chen did a casting call for the Red Sox the other day. Nicely done, Albert, but one minor quibble. You had Ben Affleck playing himself. After watching a few minutes of Reindeer Games on cable and seeing the trailer for his Christmas movie, I don't think he can pull it off. Just not a good enough actor to play himself. I'd give Matt Damon the role.

Thanks for stopping by. Stay classy.

Mark Bechtel covers NASCAR for Sports Illustrated and SI.com.

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